Quinta De La Rosa

THE avant-garde winery of the Douro with Sophia Bergqvist


Sophia Bergqvist’s sparkling presentation of the wines of her Quinta de la Rosa was introduced by her long-time friend Gerald Sachs on a cold and rather wet March night.

Inside the Marquee however all was light and bright and it was wonderful to see so many members back to ‘live’ tasting again after so many months of Zoom.

Gerald has picked grapes at the Quinta (‘only twenty minutes before my back started to protest’) and also had the privilege of treading the grapes. Sophia did assure us later that fermentation kills all known germs but Gerald has the satisfaction of knowing that there is a little bit of him in the acclaimed 2011 port vintage!

Sophia started with a short film, showing just how vertiginous are the Douro slopes and just how much fun it must be to tread the grapes in the granite lagares. The human foot, as she explained, is the perfect way to crush grapes without the risk of crushing the grape pips and letting their bitterness seep into the wine. Symington’s – the renowned owner of many of the most famous port brands – has developed a stainless steel lagar in which ceramic ‘feet’ tread the grapes but why bother when the real thing does it better and cheaper…

The Quinta de la Rosa story stretches well over 200 years and embraces wars, bankruptcy, revolution, buried silver and a remarkable christening gift that kept the domain in family hands. Check it out at www.quintadelarosa.com and get a replay of the video that Sophia played to launch our tasting.

Today’s story – and the story behind the wines we tasted on 30th March – really starts with Sophia’s father, Tim, who took over in 1972 and started to rebuild the company he had inherited from his mother. Working with Sophia, Tim launched the first port under the Quinta de la Rosa label. Wine that had previously gone to the most prestigious of houses now went into their own brand, sold direct to customers.

What’s more, Sophia – with Tim’s support – took the company into light wine made with port grapes. In a highly traditional industry. this remarkably innovative move has earned customers and won awards around the world. Rightly so, as our tasting proved.

The port grapes are brilliantly adapted to the conditions and extraordinarily dry climate of the Douro – just 7-800 millimetres of rain per year. Despite the summer heat they can – in skilled hands, and with careful vineyard work – preserve acidity and freshness. Another part of the equation is the schist soil in the Quinta de la Rosa vineyards, which helps produce grapes with more acidity than in other areas of the Douro. Modestly – probably over-modestly – Sophia credited Jorge Moreira, the Quinta de la Rosa winemaker. Few of us, listening to her talk about her evident passion for these wines and the different vineyard sites within the Quinta, could doubt the importance of her guiding hand.   

The pandemic years have been highly challenging. Sophia had never ‘dreamt that all the restaurants in the world would close’. It was, as she said, ‘scary’. In short order they had to shift to selling to retail outlets and to selling on-line.  

The entry-level estate white (wine no 1: La Rosa 2020) was immediate proof of the quality of the wines. Made from all white port grapes, the wine has an aromatic and floral nose which is followed by emphatic citric minerality and not a little complexity. The grapes come from high altitude north-facing slopes of free-draining schist and are pressed with the utmost gentleness before the juice (almost free run) is fermented in stainless steel and then matured in 50 per cent new oak. The grapes are then re-pressed to produce the Quinta’s white port. A ‘crowd-pleaser’ said Sophia. Take a glass as an aperitif, match with grilled fish (grilled halibut and sea bass are apparently great matches) – the salinity of the wine works brilliantly – or test against a roast chicken. You won’t be disappointed. Further up-river, the estate has another vineyard and are making passagem wines there. The greater heat makes for richer white wines which are further enriched by batonnage.   

However, white wine is still something of a rarity in the Douro and Sophia is capitalising on Quinta de la Rosa’s lead by planting new vineyards with Alvarinho. Her feeling is that grown in the Douro the grapes will have more tannin / structure than the typical Alvarinhos from Rias Baixas and the Vinho Verde area. It will be well worth tasting these wines when they make the transition from estate-only samples to the general market.

Next up was the rosé – La Rosa 2021. These wines have a longer pedigree in the estate but used to be made from the free run juice of the traditional port grapes. This gave a very powerful, deeply coloured wine but now the global taste is shifting towards paler, more Provençal-style, rosé wines. The estate is buying in grapes to shift the balance from Touriga Nacional to Tinta Roriz and Barocca, sticking with minimal press and free-run juice but now fermenting in stainless steel to control the temperature and maintain the freshness. Our wine was the 2021 rosé – lovely strawberry fruit, fresh acidity but possibly a hint of ‘struck match’. Six more months in bottle would undoubtedly deal with that and it’s possible that there was still an element of ‘bottle shock’ here. Still good with summer salads and grilled chicken though!

Here Sophia gave us the inside track on a new trend – wine in keg. The inspiration for her estate has come from her son Kit’s expertise in beer-making, but distribution companies and high-end restaurants such as Galvin’s in London are picking up on the opportunity. The keg format allows for minimal intervention, in particular in the use of sulphur, and an internal ‘skin’ can be used to keep out oxygen. The first of the new wines made with Alvarinho grapes have been tested in keg and perform brilliantly. The wine is fully mature when it enters the keg and one of the advantages of this method is a reduction in the amount of glass used in traditional bottling. A ‘watch this space’ story for sure.

With wines 3 and 4 we shifted into the red spectrum with the 2019 ‘Estate Red’ – fresh, bright and very more-ish – and the slightly older 2018 ‘Reserva’ which boasted deeper flavour – noticeable dark chocolate and coffee leading an ever-evolving spectrum of flavours.  

Though there has been debate in the Douro over whether to permit and plant non-Portuguese grapes such as Cab Sauv and Petit Verdot, Sophia’s starting point is that the port grapes have evolved to fit the local climate:  very small, thick skins, lots of pip. The problem is that as the market begins to favour lighter wines so there’s increasingly an issue over when to pick the traditional grapes. (This is normally done when the grapes are almost like raisins, with their highly concentrated sugars.)

In hot years, the estate focuses more on port; when it’s a touch cooler the emphasis shifts to wine – though in great years both can do brilliantly. Those are the years of spring rain, warm summers and crucial early autumn rains followed by a couple of good pre-harvest weeks when, as wine-maker Jorge says, the ‘grapes are making the wine without any help from me’. Sophia and Jorge went through a range of different barrels (Portuguese too resiny; American too much vanilla) before settling on the most expensive French oak. These are used for 10-15 years – more to soften the wines than add oak flavour. The result is a wine with good acidity and structure that ‘sings with food’. Lot of fruit, bright tannins and good grip in the finish give a wine that can work with spicy foods (at Hakkasan for example), with fish, and, in reality, with almost anything. A great wine for a table of mixed tastes and menu choices!

The Estate Red will age for 2-3 years, but if you want real longevity go for the Reserva. 2018 was a hotter, more tannic year. There’s lots of Touriga Nacional in this blend, some from vineyards replanted in 2005, plenty of new oak (10-12 months in barrel) and – thanks to a night of foot treading – plenty of skin contact. Great with game and red meat and cheese; works with chocolate – and good for another ten years at least.

Another impact of the pandemic was that the estate had to take great care to keep out Covid. A winemaker with no sense of taste or smell would have been a disaster. In 2021 the grapes were trodden by the all-female marketing team – which would have horrified Sophia’s grandmother who had prevented her from taking part, in the belief that the women’s impact would be to turn the wine sour.

From light wines we shifted to port. White port – made with the second pressing of the white grapes – had a preserved lemon nose and then a slightly caramelised initial hit to the taste buds before a refreshingly dry finish. The wine is blended in much the same way as champagne houses blend, in order to ensure consistency over the years. Drink straight from the fridge with a dash of tonic (a missed trick for the Club tasting team), a sprig of mint and plenty of ice. Or try it with goat’s cheese or a nibble of foie gras. In the 19th and for much of the 20th century white port was easily available and highly fashionable. Sophia’s great-grandfather, H.L. Feuerheerd, sold it in quantity to the Tsar of Russia. Nowadays, it’s a bit of a rarity (though Taylor’s have just launched white port in a can) but it will be in the Club offer.

Last up, the two red ports. First, the 10 year-old Tawny (which was many members’ favourite of the evening). This was the ‘real stuff’ for generations of British consumers – though these days the French drink more by volume – than we do. But they take the rough ruby stuff; we (and reportedly Denmark) take the good stuff. The fermentation is stopped by brandy of course (the Quinta team choose a clear, neutral brandy for this) and the Tawny benefits from fermenting slightly drier to give a drink that can work straight from the fridge as an aperitif. This is the ‘wine-lovers’ port’ – none of the brandy burn that vintage port can have. Sophia recommends having a Tawny port instead of a dessert as a method of weight control!

Last wine of the evening was the 2016 LBV. This is a wine that has been aged for 4 to 6 years before bottling and comes to us absolutely ready to drink. It resembles a young vintage port (and can keep some years with no problem). With their ‘A’ graded vineyards, port is – and will remain – the ‘heart’ of the estate but sales have been flat for some years and she recognises that light wine, which reflects their unique terroir, is the future of Quinta de la Rosa.

Thanking Sophia, Andrew MacLean paid tribute to her inspirational leadership – to just of her own estate but also of the wider port industry. We had learnt earlier that her own son is now working ‘with’ not ‘for’ her and it was very good to know that the Quinta de la Rosa tradition is set to continue.


GH: 1/4/22